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How to Help Your Kids to Stop Worrying
5 simple stress busters for kids.
Children seem to be more anxious then ever. Mental health professionals have cited many reasons: a decrease in play, hovering, anxious parents, breakdown of the traditional family, social media, an overabundance of choices and the fast pace of our modern world.
Whatever the reason, children are stressed out and it can be tough for parents to manage and help their child overcome their big worries like family discord, separation anxiety, terrorism, “bad guys” or monsters under the bed. Teens fret about not doing well in school, not getting into college, or not fitting in.
How can we help our kids stop worrying? Here are 5 simple stress busters that work:
- Teach them what stress is:
Kids often don’t know that the physical symptoms that they’re experiencing are due to their worries. In order to deal with stress you need to be able to recognize that you are under stress. Our bodies are created in such a way that they signal to us that we are tense and under pressure. We need to interpret the signs.
When we worry, our breath and heart rate increases and we feel like we have butterflies in our stomach. Depending on our level of stress, our faces turn red, our muscles tense and our body feels hot. Children can have a hard time understanding something inside the body that cannot be seen or touched. It can be helpful to have your child run in place for 30-60 seconds and then ask them to think about how his or her body feels in terms of the body signals. You can then discuss how your body feels similarly under stress.
- Your mind is under attack:
Your body is not the only part of you sending warnings. Your thoughts are also being assaulted. Stress can be a result or exacerbated by negative thought patterns. Children, teens and even adults, will find that if they examine their thinking when worried, their thoughts sound something like this:
“I can’t do it!
“It will be awful!”
“I’m so stupid!”
“I hate doing homework!”
“My friends will just ignore me!”
“I am dumb!”
“I can’t do anything right!”
“I give up!”
We can teach children to replace their negative thoughts with more positive ones:
“Take it easy”
“Take some deep breaths”
“I’m getting tense so I need to relax.”
“I’m going to be okay”
“It’s okay if I’m not good at this”
“I’m sad that she doesn’t want to hang out with me, but other people like me”
“I’ll just try my hardest”
- Think good and it will be good:
Children will benefit from learning the connection between thoughts, feelings and behaviors. For example:
Unhelpful thought: He is so unfair to me=Negative Feelings: Anger =Unhelpful Behavior=Yelling and calling names
Helpful thought: He is usually a good friend=Positive Feelings=Happy Helpful Behavior= Talk out a disagreement
Unhelpful thought: I always screw up math=Negative Feelings=Sadness= Unhelpful Behavior=Don’t try with math
Helpful thought: I’ll try my best with my math=Positive Feelings=Confidence=Helpful Behavior=Good effort with math
We can help children move through their difficulties by gently questioning their attitudes and moving them through their worries.
Here is an example of how this can work:
“I can’t read! I am stupid!”
Are you thinking unhelpful thoughts?
“Yes, I am thinking I am stupid!”
Are these thoughts going to help you?
“No it makes me feel like giving up.”
What is a different and more helpful way I can think?
“I can do this. I can ask for help or think of a better strategy to do this.”
- Develop healthy habits:
To help decrease worrying over all it is helpful to develop a healthy lifestyle. Try to build into your family life regular exercise, good sleeping habits, a healthy social life, and regular routines. Those are the fundamentals that help life go smoothly.
- Get help:
If you feel like your child’s worries are affecting their everyday functioning, reach out to a professional. Healthy families get help when they need it.
Bloomquist, M. (2013) Skills Training for Struggling Kids. Guilford Press. NY
About the Author:
Adina Soclof, MS. CCC-SLP, is the Director of Parent Outreach for A+ Solutions, facilitating “How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk” workshops as well as workshops based on “Siblings Without Rivalry.” Adina also runs ParentingSimply.com and is available for speaking engagements. You can reach her and check out her website at www.parentingsimply.com.